October 18, 2021
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On Sunday, October 10th, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St Peter’s Basilica for the solemn opening of the Synod of Bishops 2023, and thus initiated a process of communal discernment throughout the entire Church in preparation for that event. In a synod, we journey together, led by the Holy Spirit, along the path of hope founded on Jesus Christ, as we proclaim him to the world as its one and only true hope. This particular Synod, which has as its theme, For a Synodal Church: communion, participation, and mission, will be a journey of spiritual discernment that involves adoration, prayer, and dialogue with the Word of God. As the three verbs outline, the Holy Father asks that we, as the diverse people of God called to be one in the communion of faith, participate by actively engaging in an exercise of deep and reflective listening to the Holy Spirit, who guides and impels us to the mission of announcing Christ to the world.
Pope Francis, in his homily of the Holy Mass of October 10, reminds us of a certain rich man who came up to Jesus “as he was setting on his journey” (Mk 10:17). His Holiness reminds us that the Gospels frequently show us Jesus “on a journey”; he walks alongside people and listens to the questions and concerns lurking in their heart. Jesus calls us to self-sacrifice in faithful imitation of him, which among other things means asking the Holy Spirit to liberate us from all that is worldly, including any inward-looking or outworn pastoral models. The central questions posed to us by this synodal process are these: “What is God saying to us in this time? What is the direction in which He wants to lead us?” To attend to these, we shall also need to ponder how the Spirit is shaping us as a synodal Church. Attending to these questions requires openness to God, taking time for prayer and adoration, and listening to what the Holy Spirit tells us. As pilgrims in love with Jesus Christ and docile to the Holy Spirit, we must be open to all that God asks of us.
The first phase of the Synodal Process (October 2021 to April 2022) involves an extensive consultation/ listening phase within each Diocese of the world at the local level. This will be followed by consultations on the continental level, leading up to the Synod of Bishops in October of 2023.
During this time, the people of God are called to a deep discernment process rooted in adoration and prayer. Together with listening to the Word of God and the treasures of the Church’s Tradition, discernment involves a careful attentiveness to the lived experience of believers. Therefore, this process aims at having participation by the greatest number of people possible, especially those on the periphery, who are often excluded and forgotten.
In this listening phase, people will gather, respond to stimulus questions, listen to each other, and provide ideas, reactions, and suggestions. All of the feedback given in the consultation/listening phases will be gathered into synthesis documents, which will report common trends and points of convergence, and highlight those points that strike a chord, inspire an original point of view, or open a new horizon. Each Diocese must submit its own synthesis document by April, 2022.
During his address on the occasion of the Moment of Reflection for the Beginning of the Synodal Journey, Pope Francis encouraged the faithful to “journey together, in order to experience a Church that receives and lives this gift of unity, and is open to the voice of the Spirit.” All the baptized are called to take part in the Church’s life and mission. Synodal speaking and listening is oriented towards discernment, in which people listen to each other, their faith tradition, and the signs of the times in order to hear what God is saying to all of us. It requires hearts and minds open to the transformative power of the Holy Spirit, and voices speaking with a courage that springs from love of the Lord Jesus and his Church.
As we embark on this Synodal journey, I ask for your prayers, that we will grow in our experience of communion, forged by the Holy Spirit, who moves us to participate fully in the mission of Jesus Christ. We are each called, in virtue of our Baptism, to be active participants in the life of the Church. I look forward to journeying with each of you as we embark on this exciting Synodal journey.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton